As a general rule of thumb, the industry tends to franchise its biggest hits as soon as possible in order to capitalize on the initial buzz, but it’s taken Netflix almost five whole years to expand upon one of its biggest-ever hits through Bird Box Barcelona.
The Sandra Bullock-led original was a certified cultural sensation after releasing in November of 2018, hoovering up viewing hours like it was nobody’s business and inspiring countless viral crazes. The downside is that its moment in the spotlight has long since passed, and the spin-off that premieres this coming Friday isn’t going to propel the property back to the top of the relevancy pile.
Expanding such a singular concept and using it as the basis of what’s presumably being designed as a string of localized standalone movies is a solid one, but as much as Bird Box Barcelona tries – and succeeds on numerous counts – to expand the mythology, it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor, while simultaneously dedicating its time to a few too many questions that it doesn’t plan on answering.
This time around, Mario Casas’ Sebastián is our entry point to the story, as he embarks upon a journey largely similar to the one undertaken by Bullock’s Malorie in the opener; the world has been overrun by mysterious creatures that instantly incite suicide among those unfortunate enough to lay eyes on them, with several factions and splinter groups pushing different agendas emerging to try and seize whatever piece of society left that they can.
Whether or not Bullock declined the opportunity to return for a direct sequel based on literary successor Malorie is anybody’s guess, but watching Bird Box Barcelona it’s incredibly easy to imagine that you’d end up with the exact same film beat-for-beat regardless of whether or not the lead was a returning character, a brand new one, or just about anybody plucked off the street in the midst of the apocalypse.
That’s neither a good or a bad thing, but it is somewhat of a damning indictment on the approach to Barcelona as a whole. Writers and directors Álex and David Pastor hit all the right notes from a technical perspective; there are ravaged streets, bursts of gruesome violence, tension-ratcheting set pieces, and a couple of grandstanding action beats that inevitably feature Netflix’s relentless urge to use terrible CGI fire as often as humanly possible, but at no point does it feel like a completely different animal to Bird Box. It exists, it’s a diverting enough watch, and it manages to expand both the scope and mythology while leaving the door open for additional stories – replete with a tantalizing cliffhanger – and yet it can’t shake off that feeling it doesn’t need to exist.
Much like Bird Box, Barcelona incorporates dual-wielding timelines, religious zealots who operate under the impression humanity is being published for its sins, scrappy bands of survivors suspicious of anyone who pleads innocence in the hopes of being welcomed into the fold, and breathless escapes that threaten to plunge them directly into the line of sight of the sinister beings that have decimated the population, and there’s enough style on display to make them every bit as effective as they are over-familiar.
Without going into spoilers, there are a couple of intriguing wrinkles that do present brand new opportunities with which to approach the overarching Bird Box mythos, but they’re only half-explained at best. Meanwhile, several larger questions are posed regarding the who, what, when, and how of the unseen monsters, but there’s never anything remotely resembling a definitive answer; again, there’s always the chance future entries will tie up these loose threads, but it would be nice for a sense of closure that underlines Barcelona as a self-contained story as opposed to table-setting for yet more table-setting to come.
That being said, Casas – who was excellent in Netflix’s Harlan Coben adaptation The Innocent – makes for an excellent anchor. Bedraggled, forlorn, but always hiding something just under the surface, he’s haunted by demons of both a literal and figurative variety with motivations that are never made abundantly clear until the third act, although your mileage may vary on a “twist” that’s easily perceptible from the very first scene.
Barbarian breakout Georgina Campbell makes for a worthy foil as increasingly suspicious survivor Claire, too, with the stellar work of the entire ensemble Bird Box Barcelona‘s strongest method of drawing you into a story that does exactly what it needs to do – and cracks open a few more doors the franchise may or may not end up walking through – but it’s difficult to imagine it’ll come close to seizing the zeitgeist on a level that’s even remotely comparable to its forebear.
At the end of the day, Netflix has built out the Bird Box universe with a hybrid of spin-off and sequel that’s solid, unspectacular, and entirely functional. It does the job it was created to do, but when there’s a unique lore ripe for further exploration, it could have easily been so much more.
‘Bird Box Barcelona’ expands the mythology in several new and fascinating directions, but it also makes the mistake of posing several bigger questions that it doesn’t seem to want to answer.